Back surgery can lead to welcome improvements in your quality of life, thanks to benefits that may include less discomfort, increased flexibility, and the ability to get back to the activities you enjoy. To reap these rewards, you’ll need to take certain steps during your first three months after surgery. Here’s some advice to keep in mind during this early stage of the recovery process.
Push the passenger seat back as far as possible so you can get in comfortably without straining your spine. Hold on to the dashboard or door frame of the vehicle for support as you lower yourself into your seat. With car travel post-surgery, it can also be helpful to:
• Limit time in a car to trips lasting only 20–30 minutes
• Take breaks if you do need to go on longer trips
• Get up to move around and stretch during your breaks
The general recommendation about driving post-surgery is to wait until you’re able to walk briskly for about 400 yards. Also, you’ll need to reach a point where you can suddenly stop if you need to without straining your healing back. For many patients, this is typically about six weeks after back surgery, but check with your doctor first before getting behind the wheel again. When you do, take precautions such as:
• Opting for quieter, smoother roads whenever possible
• Adjusting your seat so you maintain good posture as you drive
• Using a lumbar/neck support cushion for added support
• Starting with shorter trips and gradually increasing your time driving
It’s possible to travel by air shortly after back surgery. Just be cautious and make sure you have a seat that allows for extra leg room. One reason for this advice is to avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolisms, and similar clotting issues that are more common in spine surgery patients. Also, try to stretch and walk around during your flight as much as possible.
It’s fairly common for back surgery patients to, at the very least, be able to do some work from home a few weeks after their procedures. Your ability to fully return to work will largely depend on the nature of your work. The recommendation for most people is to gradually return to work over several weeks. However, you should avoid tasks that involve:
• Repetitive pushing
• Heavy lifting
• Pulling, twisting, and similar motions that could reinjure your spine
Most patients start exercising post-surgery with the help of a physical therapist, who will recommend an exercise routine that’s appropriate for your needs and goals. A good way to get back into a regular exercise routine after back surgery is to gradually increase your activity level. This is called pacing. For instance, you might steadily increase how much walking you do each day.
Your ability to resume your domestic activities is largely dependent on the type of surgery you had, your overall health, and your fitness level. For example, after having a back decompression procedure such as a lumbar foraminotomy, Los Angeles patients might expect it to take 4–6 weeks to get back to shopping and cooking. However, you might have to wait a bit longer to do these same activities if you had surgery involving the discs in your neck that included disc replacement or fusion surgery.
With domestic activities, it’s best to start with less demanding tasks first, but err on the side of caution and get some help with the more demanding tasks, such as yard work and more strenuous cleaning tasks.
Ease stress on your healing spine when getting dressed by lying on your bed or using a chair for assistance. With forward-leaning activities, such as washing your face, brushing your teeth, and combing your hair, try to maintain your spine’s natural curve as much as possible by:
• Showering instead of bathing
• Sitting on the side of the bathtub to brush your teeth (if possible)
• Kneeling by the side of the tub and leaning your head forward to wash your hair
For sexual activity, try to remain on your back to avoid unnecessary spinal stress. When watching TV, avoid slouching or staying in one position for too long. Also, take breaks after about 20–30 minutes to move around. This also applies to times when you may go out to see a movie during your first three months of recovery after back surgery.
As you gradually get back to your normal activities during the first three months following back surgery, be mindful of your form and technique when you perform certain tasks throughout your day by:
• Maintaining good posture as you walk
• Bending at your hips and knees, not at your waist
• Carrying objects close to your body
• Turning your entire body instead of twisting
• Keeping frequently used items close by so you don’t have to reach
• Tightening your stomach muscles when you need to push or pull
• Sleeping on your back or side
• Using the log roll method to get in and out of bed
• Using a handrail for support when you’re able to safely go up and down stairs again
When you’re preparing to leave the hospital or surgical center, you’ll likely have a physical therapy session scheduled a few weeks after your procedure. Just remember that any exercises you do post-surgery shouldn’t be painful. The goal is to stimulate and strengthen spine-supporting muscle groups. Get more out of your post-surgery physical therapy by providing honest feedback so appropriate adjustments to your routine can be made.
To learn more about what to expect when you’re recovering from back surgery or to find an industry-leading Los Angeles spine surgeon, call The Spine Institute at (310) 828-7757 and request an in-person consultation today.